Summer is not over yet, but the new Broadway season is already in full swing. In the first half of the season, two female playwrights are represented with new plays, three productions are helmed by women directors, and one production lays claim to having Broadway’s first all-female design team. And at least three productions reflect today’s greater awareness of gender diversity, featuring transgender performers and characters in two new plays and one musical.
The season opened with the belated Broadway debut of The Boys in the Band, Mart Crowley’s landmark gay classic from 1968, which ended its nearly completely sold-out limited engagement earlier this month.
Two nonbinary transgender performers (Kate Bornstein and Ty DeFoe) set the stage for Straight White Men (Hayes Theatre), a comedic observation of a father and three sons over the Christmas holidays, featuring movie star Armie Hammer in his Broadway debut. Directed by Tony Award winner Anna D. Shapiro (August: Osage County), the play marks the debut of Broadway’s first Asian American female playwright, Young Jean Lee.
Three new musicals opened in the past two months, each varying greatly in source material and style. Head Over Heels (Hudson Theatre) is perhaps the most unconventional: It’s a whimsical tale about two same-sex love stories, based on an Elizabethan-era pastoral romance, with songs by the popular female rock band The Go-Go’s. The production, directed by Michael Mayer, marks the Broadway debut of transgender performer Peppermint.
A group of middle-aged men give themselves new starts in life by revisiting their high school glory days in the feel-good musical Gettin’ the Band Back Together (Belasco Theatre). The production, directed by John Rando (Tony Award winner for Urinetown), stars Mitchell Jarvis and Marilu Henner.
Following a more traditional path from screen to stage, Pretty Woman: The Musical (Nederlander Theatre), with a book by Garry Marshall and J.F. Lawton and a score by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance, is based on the popular 1990 Julia Roberts movie. Broadway newcomer Samantha Barks and three-time Tony Award nominee Andy Karl (Groundhog Day, Rocky) play the romantic leads in the production directed and choreographed by Tony winner Jerry Mitchell (Kinky Boots, Legally Blonde).
And here’s what’s coming up for the rest of this year.
Tony Award winner Janet McTeer returns to Broadway to play the legendary French actress Sarah Bernhardt in Bernhardt/Hamlet (American Airlines Theatre, opens September 25), a new dramatic comedy by Theresa Rebeck (Seminar). Popularly known as the “Divine Sarah,” Bernhardt was a fearless and adventurous performer and Europe’s first entertainment celebrity. Her friend and lover, Cyrano de Bergerac author Edmond Rostand (portrayed by Jason Butler Harner), described her as the “queen of pose and the princess of the gesture.” The play is set in 1899 as Bernhardt prepares to take on the title role in Hamlet. The Roundabout Theatre Company production, directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, also stars Dylan Baker, who plays Constant Cocquelin, the French actor who starred opposite Bernhardt in a repertory season on Broadway in 1900; Cocquelin played the Gravedigger in her Hamlet and the title role in Cyrano de Bergerac.
Richard Bean proved himself a master of fast-paced comedy with One Man, Two Guvnors. In his latest, The Nap (Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, starts September 5, opens September 27), the British playwright gives us an original and hilarious take on pool playing — or snooker, as they call it in Britain. Ben Schnetzer makes his Broadway debut playing a fast-rising snooker star who returns to his hometown for a tournament and finds himself embroiled in a web of corruption and match fixing. The cast of colorful characters includes Transparent star Alexandra Billings as a transgender gangster, two-time Tony nominee Johanna Day, Tony nominee John Ellison Conlee, Heather Lind, and Thomas Jay Ryan. The Manhattan Theatre Club production, directed by Tony winner Daniel Sullivan, also features four-time and current 2018 United States Snooker Champion Ahmad Aly Elsayed.
Daniel Radcliffe, Cherry Jones, and Bobby Cannavale bring their star power to The Lifespan of a Fact (Studio 54, starts September 20, opens October 18). In the lively comedy-drama, a fact-checker (played by three-time Drama Desk nominee Radcliffe) is assigned by his editor (two-time Tony winner Jones) to verify the accuracy of a story about a teenage suicide written by a well-known writer (two-time Tony nominee Cannavale). The timely new play by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell, and Gordon Farrell is based on the essay and book of the same name, which documents the real-life seven-year debate on truth and embellishment in journalism between the intern Jim Fingel, who verified the story, and the author, John D’Agata. The production, which is said to feature Broadway’s first all-female design team — Tony winner Mimi Lien (scenic design), Tony winner Linda Cho (costumes), Jen Schriever (lighting), Palmer Hefferan (sound), and Lucy Mackinnon (projection) — is directed by Leigh Silverman (nominated in 2014 for Violet).
Nearly 60 years since she made her Broadway debut at the John Golden Theatre with her celebrated duo comedy act An Evening With Mike Nichols and Elaine May, the octogenarian playwright and performer returns to the same venue in a revival of Kenneth Lonergan’s The Waverly Gallery (starts September 25, opens October 25). May plays an aging Bohemian art gallery owner whose mind is shattered by Alzheimer’s. Lucas Hedges (Oscar nominee for his role in Lonergan’s movie Manchester by the Sea) makes his Broadway debut playing her grandson; Michael Cera (a 2018 Tony nominee for his performance in Lonergan’s Lobby Hero) plays the role of a young artist whose work is the last to be hung in the old lady’s Greenwich Village gallery. This revival of Lonergan’s memory play, a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2001, is directed by Drama Desk and Obie Award winner Lila Neugebauer.
The Ferryman (Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, starts October 2, opens October 21) is the new play from Jez Butterworth, who received a Tony nomination in 2011 for Jerusalem. The production, directed by Sam Mendes (Cabaret), arrives on Broadway following a sold-out, highly acclaimed, and multiple-award-winning run in London. Set in 1981 in rural Northern Ireland, the play is a sprawling epic about a family that draws from the revolutionary history and myths of the Irish nation. The cast includes Paddy Considine as the head of the household (making his Broadway debut), and Olivier Award winner Laura Donnelly as his sister-in-law.
Standing 20 feet high and weighing 2,000 pounds, Broadway’s most unusual leading man is a gorilla smitten by beauty in King Kong (Broadway Theatre, starts October 5, opens November 8). The mighty beast, originally conceived by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace, is a wonder of puppetry and animatronics designed for the stage by Australian creature engineer Sonny Tilders. Based on the 1932 novelization of the original movie screenplay, the book for the Broadway musical spectacle is written by Jack Thorne (2018 Best Play Tony award winner for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child); music and lyrics are by four-time Grammy nominee Marius de Vries (music director of La La Land), and songs are by Eddie Perfect (composer of the upcoming new musical Beetlejuice). Christiani Pitts (who plays the movie actress Anne Darrow) and Eric William Morris (the film director Carl Denham) star in the production, directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie.
In the early hours of the morning, an African American woman (played by Scandal star Kerry Washington) anxiously seeks information at a Florida police station about her teenage son who went missing the night before. The gripping new drama American Son (Booth Theatre, starts October 6, opens November 4), by Broadway newcomer Christopher Demos-Brown, taps into a parent’s worst fears in contemporary America. Caught up in the current national racial divide, the mother and her estranged white husband (Steven Pasquale) confront a rookie police officer (Jeremy Jordan) and the overconfident lieutenant in charge (Eugene Lee). The production is directed by Kenny Leon, who received a Tony Award for A Raisin in the Sun.
Slightly condensed (and with a revised title), Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song (Hayes Theater, starts October 9, opens November 1) returns to the same theatre at which it made Broadway history 36 years ago. A funny and heartwarming comedy about an out gay Jewish man in 1980s New York City trying to find love and make his own family, Fierstein’s landmark play won the Tony Award for Best Play in 1983. The Second Stage Theater revival, which premiered Off-Broadway last fall, is directed by Moisés Kaufman. In the role created by Fierstein in the original, Michael Urie plays the chatty drag queen Arnold who stands up to his resolute and homophobic mother, played by Tony winner Mercedes Ruehl.
A group of fading Broadway stars make a desperate stab at the spotlight by descending upon a small Indiana town to fight for the rights of a high school student who is banned from bringing her girlfriend to The Prom (Longacre Theatre, starts October 23, opens November 15). Originally conceived by Jack Viertel, the new musical comedy — with a book co-written by Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone) and Chad Beguelin (Aladdin), and with music by Matthew Sklar (The Wedding Singer) and lyrics by Beguelin — won audiences’ hearts when it premiered in Atlanta two years ago. Tony Award nominee Brooks Ashmankas (Something Rotten), Tony winner Beth Leavel (The Drowsy Chaperone), and two-time Tony nominee Christopher Sieber (Shrek) lead the cast in the production directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon, Aladdin, Mean Girls).
In The Cher Show (Neil Simon Theatre, starts November 1, opens December 3), three performers —Stephanie J. Block (Tony nominee for Falsettos), Teal Wicks, and Micaela Diamond — play the iconic singer and actress at various points in her six-decade-long career. Written by Rick Elice (Jersey Boys) with music arrangements and orchestrations by Daryl Waters (Tony Award winner for Memphis), the bio-musical charts the highs and lows in the Goddess of Pop’s trailblazing path to stardom. Expect to hear 35 of her hit songs and marvel at a glittering parade of those one-of-a-kind Bob Mackie costumes. The cast also includes Emily Skinner (Tony nominee for SideShow) as Cher’s mother, Georgia Holt, and Jarrod Spector as Sony Bono. The production is directed by Jason Moore (Avenue Q), with choreography by Christopher Gattelli (Tony winner for Newsies, and 2018 nominee for My Fair Lady and SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical).
Two-time Tony award nominee Jeff Daniels plays Atticus Finch, the Alabama lawyer who fights for social justice in Harper Lee’s 1960s classic To Kill a Mockingbird (Shubert Theatre, starts November 1, opens December 13). Relevant in the face of racial tensions, the new stage adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is by Aaron Sorkin (Oscar-winning writer of The Social Network and multiple Emmy award winner for The West Wing). The cast includes Celia Keenan-Bolger, Will Pullen, Gideon Glick, Frederick Weller, Gbnega Akinnagbe, Stark Sands, Neal Huff, Stephen McKinley Henderson, and LaTanya Richardson Jackson as the housekeeper Calpurnia. The Scott Rudin and Lincoln Center Theater coproduction is directed by Bartlett Sher (currently represented on Broadway with My Fair Lady).
Network (Cort Theatre, starts November 10, opens December 6) is adapted from Paddy Chayefsky’s Oscar-winning screenplay by Tony- and Olivier Award-winning writer Lee Hall (Billy Elliott). Internationally acclaimed director Ivo van Hove (Tony Award winner for A View From the Bridge) and his frequent collaborators — scenic designer Jan Versweyveld and video designer Tal Yarden — have transformed the biting 1976 movie satire into a riveting tragedy for our age, reimagining a world in which news is entertainment and driven solely by the almighty ratings. Bryan Cranston (Tony Award winner for All the Way and four-time Emmy winner for Breaking Bad) plays Howard Beale, the TV anchor who’s “mad as hell and … not going to take it anymore”; his mental breakdown on prime-time TV turns him into a national celebrity.
The Illusionists – Magic of the Holidays (Marquis Theatre, starts November 23) marks the return to Broadway for the fourth year in succession of the magic spectacular that has wowed audiences across the globe. Five masters of the art of defying reality ranging from sleight of hand to escapology – Darcy Oake “The Grand Illusionist), Adam Trent (The Futurist), Colin Cloud (The Deductionist), Shim Lim (The Manipulator) and Chloé Crawford (The Sorceress) — with special guests the Ukrainian troupe Light Balance (best known for their appearance on America’s Got Talent) promise to dazzle you with “the most outrageous and astonishing acts ever seen on stage.”